Rory's into music and gigging. There's not a day goes by when he doesn't play guitar and he's studiously avoiding the pitfalls that beset successful rock 'n' rollers. We talked with him around the time of the Albert Hall concert in London and we were able to attend the soundcheck to see the band routining to beat the dreaded Albert acoustics. On the check, Rory was faithfully sticking to a really old Fender combo amp which insisted on playing up. He had a little trouble from his treble boost unit which was cradled in tin foil to avoid screening problems and sat on top of the amp. The final sound he wrung from his much loved, but battered Stratocaster was phenomenal. Equally phenomenal was the sound Rod D'Ath was getting from an Arbiter Auto-Tune drum kit. Music biz executive Mark Goodwin had brought the kit down to the Albert at Rod's request, as Rod said, the sound was 'fucking amazing.'
After the usual problems the band settled down and played an exceptionally good gig.
Have you changed any
your equipment recently?
Well, I've still got the Fender Bassman amp with four 10 inch speakers. I've got a spare Fender Twin, which has two 12 inch speakers, but it's the old style without the reverb. That's in case the Bassman breaks down, but I kinda like the Bassman tone. I still have the AC30 and I've got this Magnetone, which is not a very well known American make. It's got a very fast tremolo on it - almost like a Leslie effect - with a long tubular bar thing. When I got it the guy told me I'd have to get the valves changed, so I hung on to it for months, but it's only this week that I've got it sorted out. It looks a bit like a Selmer. There's two Jensens in the back, it's got tremolo, reverb and the tremolo flickers a bit when it's on. It's a bit fancy but it's a nice little amp.
How's the Strat?
Oh, it's great. I had it overhauled in LA because I thought it was getting a bit beyond it, but this guy took it apart and fitted a new nut, new machine heads, straightened out the neck a bit and put it back together again. Since then it's been working great.
It made a nice album
Yeah. It was the 'eleventh hour' sleeve that we tried. Luckily, the photographer took some nice close up shots and they looked really atmospheric. So we went along with that and it came out great.
For normal tuning, you
only use the Strat.
Does this cause you any tuning problems during a two hour set?
Oh, it holds up pretty well. I mean, I bend some of the strings really crazy sometimes, so you're bound to end up tuning up after a couple of numbers. Some guys actually bring on two guitars and change over halfway through the set, but that one's probably gone out of tune anyway with the lights and the heat.
How do you tune up in
the dressing room?
Harmonica usually. Bass and guitar to harmonica. We didn't used to bother with a tune up amp, but we've got one in there now. It's not essential.
Have you got a good
I think so, yeah. In lots of cases, you have to be confident in your own ear. It's a psychological thing. It's like depending on these strobo-tuners - that's alright if you've got, like ten guitars to use on stage and the roadie has to do it. But I really think that's bad news. It's alright if you're Bo Diddley or Keith Richard - they use loads of guitars on stage - but that's something you've got to learn yourself.
Who does your repairs
We've got a fellow called Ray Elgy who works in Shepherds Bush. He does a lot of the repair work. It depends. If you're on tour, you have to depend on who's available. I tend to get a lot of repairs done in the States. Maybe that's because American tours are so concentrated and you need to get repairs done on the road. You often meet guys who happen to be guitar repair men who say 'Hey, have you ever tried doing this with the guitar?' You might be lucky to have a day off, so you give them the guitar and they come back the next night with it. I don't like to fool around with the wiring, but Ray does most of the odd bits of repairs for us. It's only when you try out things that you find out. It's like the Telecaster, I've got an out of phase switch on that. I had that done in the States and I switched round the bass position pickup to the Strat pickup because the bass one is a bit thin.
How pleased are you
It's the album that's lasted the longest, in terms of satisfaction, for me. I still think it's the strongest album all round. It's got the best sound and the band are playing the best on it.
The album's got a very
'live' feel to it. How did you achieve that?
Well, there was a two year gap, which gave me a chance to sit back and pull the other albums apart and see what was right and what was wrong. There were a lot of good things about the other albums. I stand up by those, but we tried a few different things. We put the drums outside the drum booth for instance. We spent weeks rehearsing the songs before we actually recorded them, so by the time we recorded them we had them off well. It was Wessex Studios and three quarters of it is carpeted and the other bit is tiled, so we used the tile place and screened it off slightly, so we had the quality plus the ambiance thing. I don't think all the technical changes we made had all that much to do with it. It just sort of swung anyway. Also, I wasn't averse to re-doing a vocal this time, before I used to be very insistent on doing live vocals and live lead guitar.
Do you always record
vocals at the same time as the guitar?
Yeah. I had this idealistic thing, which I still stand by to a great extent, even if the track sounds just 99.9% right, sometimes a live vocal gives it that - it sounds like it's people playing live. Sometimes, with this strict approach, things can suffer. To get a good clear vocal, you'd have to cut down on the drum volume a bit and stuff like that, so we compromised a bit. It's taken a lot off my shoulders to have to do a perfect lead guitar and a perfect vocal and for the band to be perfect as well. But there are some tracks that are completely live on the album and most of them are pretty live. All we did was to take a slight step towards using the studio to our advantage, maybe double tracking a bit of organ or rhythm and lead guitar. You see, even if everything was right but you don't have that "zing" there, then the album won't be good. Let's put it this way, after making Against The Grain, I think we can only improve on that sound now, but I'm not going to become super-sophisticated in the studio. I'm still going to keep it rough, but not so rough that we lose quality. Also, we taped it and kept it well within the twenty-minute thing. On one hand, you're trying to give the people value, but then you take up too much room on the record, so you cut down your volume. It's one of those things, you know. I hate bands who do 15 minutes a side. I think that's real bad. But I'm just glad that this album has more "zing" than the others, but I still have a soft spot for the others.
You produced the
how comfortable are you in the producer's chair?
Well, for a start I was working with a great engineer Robin Sylvester and he's A1. I've worked with him before and he's caught us at gigs, so I can leave a lot on his shoulders. I'm not super-technical. If he does something, I know what he's doing. Really, I try and stay in that little vacuum between being instinctive and saying 'I picture this thing this way'. I have a very strong image of what I want the song to sound like, but if he comes up with an idea, I'll always listen. That'll be the argument for all time, what is a producer? On one hand, it means an awful lot of credit for the engineer and on the other hand, it's the guy who sees the sounds he wants.
Do you record at the
level in the studio?
Just about, yeah. It depends on the sound. If you want to get a clean sound, you cut it down a bit. We set the stuff up in a circle more or less, and it's pretty loud, but not earth-shattering. Just enough to let the amps cook.
When you're writing,
you use a cassette recorder or do you have a 'home studio?
Well, I recently got a reel to reel, but I haven't used it for writing yet. We've got access to the garage underneath so I'll probably do some rehearsals there. Normally, I just use the cassette player. If it's something I've got to work on, I can go over and over it playing it back on the cassette. Normally, the songs are very strong when they hit me. The only time I have to put it down on the cassette is when the music comes first and I have to work on the lyrics.
Do you play a lot off
Yeah, it depends how much we're working. In the States, I play in the hotel or jam a bit. Sometimes, there's only enough time to have a little play in the dressing room before a gig.
What's the longest
you can go without touching a guitar?
A day is my limit. If I'm stuck in a city somewhere and the gear has to fly on and I can't get my hands on a guitar, I go nuts. It happened to me once or twice and I really felt like the guy in Peanuts without the blanket. I have to go down to a music store and play for half an hour. It's like a real hunger. I used to bring a Martin around with me, but now I've got a tune-up amp called a Dwarf, it's like the Pig-nose, but you know the way the Pignose is very fuzzy. This one's dead clean, but you can fuzz it up if you want. It's good because it's one thing rehearsing with an acoustic, but the electric is such a different character. You have to work on both of them. Sometimes, you can't write on an acoustic and vice versa. But I have ended up with some crazy situations whereby I wrote an acoustic number and it ended up as an electric number, 'Sinner Boy' was one like that.
How do you spend your
time when you're off the road?
Well, I'm a guitar nut anyway so I'm always visiting music stores and getting my guitars fixed. I read a lot and do a bit of drawing and I'm a bit of a movie fan as well. I don't have any one real hobby. When I get home, there's always so many records I've missed out on, and I try and see a few bands and visit a few friends. There's lots of little things to keep you busy.
What s the longest
of time you've ever spent off the road?
Probably about a month, but then I'd be writing during that time. I wouldn't mind going off the road if I could play, but in Europe, when you're off the road, it really is off the road. In America, there's lots of clubs and things going on.
Do you find time to
a lot with other people?
Not as much as I'd like to. It goes through phases. Some tours, you bump into a lot people and there's a lot of jamming going or and sometimes there's a long stretch without. That's a pity. It's because the rock scene has become so streamlined and organized. It's a pity, but there you go.
Has the band got that
empathy between them now that enables you to change a number around
Oh yeah. I wouldn't change key or anything like that, but I often change numbers and arrangements, that's a bit of that E.S.P. thing going on. But the stuff I play has always been pretty instinctive.
Have you seen anyone
who have impressed you?
Not in quite a while. I saw Bruce Springsteen in the States a while ago. He was good in relation to all the hype, but I haven't seen anyone new who really murdered me altogether. There's a lot of interesting bands, but not really new. Like Little Feat aren't a new band, they've been going for years.
What do you think of
I think it's leveled out a bit now. People used to say they always had the best players, but there's a lot of mediocre bands as well. Being American doesn't automatically give you the license to be raunchy.
What's next for you in
the way of tours and recordings?
Well, after the American tour, we are going to do a fairly extensive European tour in March and then do the next album. It'll be out probably in August or maybe just before the summer. It'll be another studio album, definitely. We might record it in the States, in fact. I'd like to try some tracks in the States, just to see what happens. Something obviously happens to some people when they record in the States.
Out of all the studios
you've worked in, which do you prefer?
Well, the last album was done as Wessex and it's really good there. It's a nice big spacious room.
Do you prefer large
Well, at least on ground level and space I don't like rooms within rooms. I like a room to have been a room at one time. Wessex was in fact a church hail at one time. It's been totally converted into a modern professional studio, but you still know it was a room where people were. I don't know if that makes any difference, but it must do.
I know you hate being
coiled "hard-working Rory", but that fact remains you work a hell of
more than most other bands. How do you manage to keep fit on the road?
Well, you're supposed to get eight hours sleep. I do that if I can, but it's not very often. I move around a lot on stage. I make sure I can get a bit of a walk now and then. It loosens up the old muscles. I like walking a lot, so I make sure I don't sit down and watch TV all day. Between that and playing on stage, it keeps you more or less fit. I never have big meals before I go on stage because that usually makes you sluggish.
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